Tuesday 21 November 2017
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
General Affairs Council
A meeting of the General Affairs Council (Cohesion) was held in Brussels on 15 November 2017. The UK was represented by Rory O’Donnell (Counsellor for Regions, Agriculture and Fisheries) from the UK permanent representation to the European Union.
The General Affairs Council focused on an exchange of views based on the 7th report on economic, social and territorial cohesion; and on updates on the modification of the common provisions regulation.
Modification of the commons provisions regulation
The Estonian presidency provided an update on proposed changes to the common provisions regulation (the overarching EU regulation which governs the European structural and investment funds). These are expected to be in place before our withdrawal from the EU and were proposed by the Commission as part of the mid-term review of the multiannual financial framework (MFF) in order to simplify and harmonise existing regulations.
7th report on economic, social and territorial cohesion
The Council discussed conclusions from the cohesion report, which assesses the EU’s cohesion policy in recent years and recognises the need for greater visibility in its implementation. This report called for further simplification and flexibility in the period beyond 2020. A discussion between member states on the themes raised in the report was held. Member states particularly focused on efforts for simplification and harmonisation, on the principle of national co-financing and on the rule of law.
Exiting the European Union
European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority: Relocation
On 20 November 2017, the EU27 decided the new host cities of two London based EU agencies, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA).
Following a vote in the margins of the General Affairs Council (Art. 50) meeting, it has been announced that the EMA will relocate to Amsterdam; and that the EBA will move to Paris.
The Government value the contribution made by all staff working in the EMA and EBA in supporting the work of the EU. We appreciate that this announcement will affect individual staff, and we encourage the Commission and other EU institutions to recognise the contribution made by all staff, including UK nationals, and honour their commitments to their staff.
We recognise that the location of the European Union’s agencies is a matter for the European Union. In seeking a new future economic partnership with the EU, we will discuss how best to continue co-operation in the fields of medicines regulation and banking regulation, in the best interests of patients, citizens and business, both in the UK and the EU. Until we have left the EU, the UK remains a member of the EU with all the rights and obligations that membership entails, including full participation in the activities of the agencies.
In January 2017 Randox Testing Services (RTS) informed Greater Manchester Police (GMP) that there may have been manipulation of test results at their laboratories. Ongoing police investigations have since uncovered that the same manipulation may also have occurred at Trimega Laboratories Ltd (Trimega). The police are making an announcement about their criminal investigation today. When GMP has concluded its investigation, the Government will consider what lessons can be learned to ensure public confidence in forensic science used in court proceedings. I am providing an update on the police investigation and the cross-government work to manage the impact of this investigation. The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) will be overseeing the process for reviewing any impact on individual cases in the courts and will work closely with other Government Ministers from Departments impacted by the outcome of this investigation.
The purpose of this statement is to inform people potentially affected by these issues about next steps, including what action they can take.
The toxicology tests involved are used to detect the presence of drugs and in some cases alcohol in an individual’s hair, blood or urine. The alleged manipulation raises doubts about the reliability of some test results, which may have been subsequently relied on in court proceedings (criminal, coroners and family). At this time the Ministry of Justice does not believe that any civil cases are affected by this issue, but continues to keep this under review as more information emerges from the investigation. The results may also have been used by local authorities when making child protection decisions outside the court process, or by private employers for the purpose of drug and alcohol testing of their employees.
The Government recognise the seriousness of this issue and the potential impact on public confidence in the use of forensic science within the justice system. The senior judiciary are aware and Government officials are working with the police to monitor the scale of the issue, as information emerges.
Results from all tests carried out by Trimega between 2010 and 2014 are currently being treated as potentially unreliable although it is not clear how many tests from Trimega during that period may have been manipulated. The number of Trimega’s customers affected (such as local authorities, individuals, legal representatives and employers) is unknown. It may never be possible to identify them all, due to poor record-keeping practices. Samples from Trimega cannot be retested, because of the extremely limited chain of custody records and the natural degradation over time of any remaining original samples.
The Department for Education (DFE) has asked all local authorities in England to review their records to establish whether they commissioned tests from Trimega and to consider whether any action is necessary to fulfil their safeguarding responsibilities. It is unlikely that decisions about the welfare of children will have been taken solely on the basis of toxicology test results. However, DFE has asked local authorities to assure themselves that the rationale for decisions made about children’s safety and wellbeing is not now called into question.
Social care is devolved to Wales and the Welsh Government. Welsh local authorities have duties and responsibility for the care, protection and wellbeing of Welsh children and young adults. Welsh Ministers have subsequently been informed and will also be asking Welsh local authorities to review their case files to identify potential cases where test results by Trimega were relied on.
The Government fully understand that people who had a case heard in the family court may have concerns. Form C650—“Application notice to vary or set aside an order in relation to children”—has been created and is available online at: https://hmctsformfinder.justice.gov. uk/HMCTS/FormFinder.do. This form enables individuals to apply to the court to vary or discharge the final court order. No fee is payable where form C650 is used. Individuals are encouraged to seek legal advice from a solicitor or an organisation like Citizens Advice before making any application to the court. The existing legislative provisions for assessing suitability for legal aid will apply. Further information about the court process is available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/forensic-toxicology-tests.
Where a private employer has commissioned a test, individuals are encouraged to seek legal advice on the options available to them. They may also wish to consult their professional body or union, which may be able to provide assistance.
Randox Testing Services
Most drug tests from RTS between 2013 and 2017 are being treated as potentially unreliable. RTS was mainly commissioned by individual police forces when investigating criminal offences. This includes cases subsequently referred to the coroner following an investigation into a suspicious death. They have also been commissioned to undertake hair-strand tests for drugs and alcohol in the civil and family jurisdictions. RTS is co-operating fully with the police to manage the impact of this issue, and has contacted all its customers to make them aware. The NPCC is co-ordinating a national plan in response to the impact on criminal and coroners’ cases. In the majority of these cases, the original samples remain available for independent retesting, which is being managed through a prioritisation process. The police, CPS and coroners will contact affected individuals once the outcome of the retests is known.
Foreign Affairs Council (Trade)
The EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) took place in Brussels on 10 November 2017.I represented the UK at the meeting. A summary of the discussions follows:
On the state of play of preparations for the 11th World Trade Organisation ministerial conference, there was broad agreement that an outcome on fisheries subsidies was still possible. However, it would be important to continue to press for further progress on issues such as digital trade. I stressed the need for realism but not resignation and called for continued ambition.
On the state of play of EU trade negotiations with Mexico and Mercosur, attendees were reminded of their importance. The Commission assured the meeting that revised market access offers would be shared as soon as possible. All present agreed that the end of 2017 presented a unique opportunity to conclude these deals.
Commissioner Malmstrom presented the Commission report on implementation of EU free trade agreements, accompanied by info sheets on the implementation of a number of trade agreements. Her main messages were that trade had increased across the board, the EU utilisation of trade preferences could be better, and that trade had to work for everyone.